Well done! You survived the jubilee! How was it for you? Are you once again replete with patriotism? Do you have any forelock left?
Anyway, let’s forget about all that, it was AGES ago and this week has instead been largely occupied (in the UK at least) with that familiar, creeping sensation that I think all English people get on what seems like an annual basis when we realise that, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of us don’t belong to the Tory Party and in fact actively despise it as an institution, we still know what the fcuk the 1922 Committee is, and who Graham fcuking Brady is, and about the fcuking deskbanging and the RULES and the LETTERS and, look, WHY DOES THE FUNCTIONING OF AN OSTENSIBLY MODERN DEMOCRACY STILL SEEMINGLY DEPEND ON THE ARCANE PUBLIC SCHOOL-DERIVED CUSTOMS OF A TINY NUMBER OF PEOPLE FROM ONE PARTY?! AND HOW IS THAT FCUK STILL IN CHARGE?
Ahem. Anyway, to those of you who aren’t in the UK and don’t know what I am talking about I apologise once again for my parochialism. It stops here as we step into the rickety, borderline-seaworthy and almost-certainly-holed-below-the-waterline metaphorical dinghy that is this week’s newsletterblogtypething and head out into the still, inky, deep and foreboding international waters of the web.
I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and please don’t dangle your arms in the metaphor.
THE SECTION WHICH WOULD LIKE TO POINT OUT TO ANYONE THAT MIGHT HAVE MISSED IT THAT THE VERY CONCEPT OF ‘BRANDED CONTENT’ HAS BEEN TOTALLY DESTROYED FOREVER AND IT’S PROBABLY TIME TO STOP THE WHOLE THING BECAUSE, REALLY, THIS IS, ER, UNTOPPABLE, PT.1:
- Truly Destroyed: You’d have thought that by now we might have learned to stop giving luxury brands the oxygen of publicity when they do quite obviously terrible stuff in the spirit of ‘there’s no such thing as bad PR!’ (because, seemingly, there is no such thing as bad PR in the luxe industry – Dolce & Gabbana continue to flog overpriced tat to no-taste morons despite its founders multiple, notorious, gakky outbursts, and I’ve lost count of the number of brands who have had to issue apologies for ‘culturally insensitive’ designs (after having happily ridden a week-long wave of outrage publicity) – why is that? Just that, basically, fashion don’t give a fcuk? Weird), but apparently not – the latest brand to do something nakedly-insensitive for the cheap PR hit has been Balenciaga, which launched a new range of ‘Paris’ trainers which included a number of models which were artfully distressed so as to look like the sort of footwear that might be worn by a homeless person – EXCEPT THEY WERE REALLY EXPENSIVE AND SO THEREFORE A HIGH-CONCEPT JOKE! The specific version that elicited all the ire doesn’t appear to be on sale anymore, but there’s still a photo of them at the top of the page there so you can enjoy the ugliness of both the concept AND the execution. Anyway, that’s all by way of explanation to the main link, which is a nice riff on this horror by the Salvation Army in the Netherlands, which quickly knocked up its own online storefront selling shoes previously worn by actual homeless people that the charity has helped, with all proceeds going to help the needy. Nice, quick activation, and I like the fact that they pointedly don’t name the offending brand that inspired the stunt in the first place.
- Offline Cash: Crypto stuff has gotten to the point where I am genuinely incapable of telling satire from ‘genuine’ projects – look, in a world in which this week’s hottest NFT drop is fecally-themed, I don’t think I need be too ashamed of my confusion here – and so it is with this project, a series of, er, physical notes meant to act as real-world tokens of your Bitcoin fortune. What if Bitcoin, but, er, tangible?! “We’ve combined currency-grade printing with secure NFC chips to create the easiest to use cold storage product. The Bitcoin Note uses a multisig that combines a local encrypted key with a private key that you generate. The stored Bitcoin is only claimable when the holder cuts the note. If you receive a note that you want to keep in cold storage, you can re-key it from entropy you generate. After expiration only the locally stored user generated private key can access the funds.” But…but why? These things don’t exist yet – you can waitlist yourself if you’re anxious to be able to reserve your DEFINITELY REAL AND IN NO WAY POTENTIALLY SCAMMY bitcoin ‘notes’ – but I am fascinated as to who they are for and what the point of them is. There’s a lot of imagery on the site featuring people in normal-looking settings handing over these bills to do things like pay for drinks and pizza, which all made me rather conscious that, er, guys, the problem with Bitcoin adoption is not the fact that there is not a physical denomination you can transact in! I am not 100% convinced that simply ‘creating notes’ will magically enable the integration of Bitcoin into the regular fiat currency economy (I am not even 0.001% convinced), but, er, good luck!
- Running Stories: So it feels like I can officially say that ‘doing interesting stuff around exercise’ is a GROWTH AREA in apps and consumer tech once again – from last week’s ‘walk to earn’ ponzi scheme Stepn and the various parallel services that are springing up to this interesting new company which effectively takes the ‘Zombies, Run!’ template of ‘gamify your jog’ and lets you play a role in a THRILLING, ACTION-PACKED NARRATIVE as you attempt to stave off early cardiovascular failure via the medium of sweaty, lumpen shuffling through your local urban environment. Running Stories only works in Singapore at present, but the idea is really rather clever – there are a set number of ‘template’ stories that users can opt into, with the software taking live data about your location, pace, the local weather, etc, to tweak and personalise the narrative for you on the fly as you limp asthmatically around the circuit of your choice. It’s the flexibility of the software and the storytelling that interests me – there’s a bit in the trailer on the site where a runner is exhorted to ‘chase that bus’ as the programme works plugs local public transit information into the narrative, and I really like the idea of that suspension-of-disbelief-reinforcing use of real world stuff like that to heighten immersion. No clue as to how much of this is currently built-in and how much is ‘in the future, you will be able to…’, but there’s a lot of fun potential in the tech. Running still looks like an awful way to spend your time, though, to be clear.
- Make Word Art: You may not think that you need a website that lets you make the sort of really terrible ‘art’ that you used to spend your computing classes fiddling around with back in the 90s/early-2000s, but I promise you that once you click this link and start really letting go you will find a hitherto-unimagined joy in your newfound ability to create banners reading “MY JOB MAKES ME WANT TO CRY BLOOD!” in cheery, wavy fonts. I feel that there’s a satisfying workplace arts and crafts project here – I have a (not particularly well-developed) theory that as a result of the overuse of this particular style in schools, libraries and certain types of office over the past few years, people are inclined to be a little bit blind to the content of messages written in this sort of aesthetic, meaning you have a reasonably-high chance of getting away with pasting some pleasingly-subversive messages around your office without people immediately noticing. Please do share any and all examples of your “The time is now; join the cabal and begin the uprising! Sign the blood covenant!’ signage with me.
- Hammy Home: One of the areas of computing which I don’t feel has received enough attention since the 1990s is the whole ‘virtual pets which live in your computer’-thing. There was a brief vogue for this sort of thing about 25-30 years ago, with PC-based aquariums and the odd ‘life simulator’ which let you attempt to raise small, ‘cute’ creatures in rudimentary attempts at behavioural modeling, but since then I’ve been disappointed at the lack of ‘create your own misshapen homonculi and see what sort of weird tics you can generate in its AI!’ software we’ve been given. Hammy Home is not quite the ‘enact baroque psychological tortures on a small digital pet’ simulator that I realise I just basically asked for, but what it does do rather well is give you a selection of different hamster ‘homes’ and a bunch of small, animated hamsters to watch within said homes. The hamsters, much as in real life, are not the most compelling pets you will ever see, but you can feed them pellets of virtual food and watch them fill their virtual cheekpouches, so that’s nice. It’s entirely possible that I simply haven’t given this enough time, and that with the right degree of attention and care you will eventually be able to, I don’t know, evolve your hamsters into a spacefaring super-race of rodents, so perhaps it’s worth persevering with beyond the initial ‘ooh, look at their cute little faces!’ thrill – oh, and if hamsters aren’t your thing, you can play with something similar here involving goldfish (but the hamsters are better).
- Watch Cartoons: I think this website is probably breaking all sorts of copyright law but, well, fcuk it, it is an amazing resource and you deserve it. Like cartoons? Feel like you don’t get to spend quite enough of your time watching them? Fancy an online repository of seemingly every single animated series ever made (apart from the ones with REALLY good legal teams ensuring that they don’t end up on sites like this)? YES YES YES! This is fcuking insane, honestly – fine, you can’t see The Simpson’s, but this has seemingly-perfect uploads of all the seasons of stuff like Bob’s Burgers, Bojack, Samurai Jack (also, amazingly Samurai Pizza Cats, a series I remember being infuriated by as a kid and which I am absolutely going to watch an episode of as soon as I am done writing this to remind myself of why), and basically pretty much anything else you can think of. Oh, and there’s all of the anime too. And an awful lot of films, which, having had a cursory flick through, suggest that yes, this site is very much illegal and will be shut down by The Mouse within a matter of hours. So, er, get on this asap before the lawyers ruin EVERYTHING yet again.
- Pronhub Logomaker: A single-serving website whose sole purpose is to allow you – yes, YOU! – to create a pr0nhub-style logo using whatever words you like. This is neither particularly clever not particularly funny, but it’s testament to what great logo design the original is that literally everything looks pretty good when rendered in this style (no, seriously, try it – there’s pretty much nothing you can think of that won’t look sort-of classy (yes, I know, but it’s true!) in this font/shades).
- The Number Ones: Oh this is so so good. Technically speaking this is just a bunch of longreads and perhaps should be in the later section, but arbitrary taxonomy be damned! This is a long-running series on Stereogum, which I am coming to about ⅔ of the way through, and which takes the Billboard Hot 100 chart each week since its inception in the late-50s and writes INSANELY detailed essays about each different record that held the number one slot each year. Right now they have reached the 90s and so recent entries have included deep-dives into ‘Gettin’ Jiggy With It’, ‘Candle In The Wind (‘97)’, ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ and SO MANY MORE CLASSICS FROM MY CHILDHOOD! If you’re not convinced by my slightly-breathless old man hyperbole, try this entry on ‘Here Comes The Hotstepper’ by Ini Kamoze which I promise you will convince you to dive into the archive – this is so so so good.
- Footways: It’s getting to that time of year when living in Rome starts to become actively-unpleasant; as a result of consistently-corrupt procurement practices, seemingly 90% of roadworks in this city are completed by someone’s cousin Silvio who can totally do the work for 10% of the tender price – “honest signore, we’ll split the difference, don’t worry, everyone does it!” – and as such, as soon as the ambient temperature ticks up beyond about 30 degrees all of the pavements (at least in my part of town) assume the pleasing (not pleasing at all) texture of wine gums and you find yourself having to pick pieces of bitumen (or whatever Silvio has passed off as bitumen this week) from the soles of your shoes and off your floor. It’s too hot, basically, and it will soon get to the point where it’s basically just unpleasant to be outside between the hours of about 10am-6pm. Which, fine, I appreciate will get me no sympathy from those of you currently staring down the barrel of an English ‘Summer’, but which is making me properly nostalgic for a city in which it’s possible to go on long walks – which is by way of unasked for and hideously-overlong (sorry, that really wasn’t worth the typing) preamble to Footways London, a charming map which is designed to offer Londoners a variety of alternative backroutes for traversing the city – “The Footways network has been designed to connect major places with appealing and accessible streets. The places include mainline train stations, popular destinations and green spaces. It prompts Londoners and visitors to choose walking as the most enjoyable, efficient and healthy option.” I miss walking my city SO MUCH and this made me feel some horribly-powerful nostalgia for the crunch of chicken wings under my feet as I get drizzled on whilst traipsing through Loughborough Junction (nostalgia is, I concede, a weird and personal thing).
- TV References and Paradoxes: A website which, for reasons known only to its creator, attempts to track the relationships between which fictional TV universes exist in other fictional TV universes. “Cyclic TV Reference Paradoxes occur when a chain of fictional TV show references form a cycle. Each show’s reality depends on another being fictional, so a cycle of these dependencies is a paradox.Using subtitles, a large dataset of TV references were generated. This tool displays this dataset in a graph where the nodes are TV shows, and the edges are references. References can be viewed by clicking on individual nodes in this graph. Cycles can be selected to inspect a specific instance of this paradox.” This isn’t perfect – the fact it uses subtitles means that it occasionally throws up odd anomalies, like its assertion that The Simpsons has been referenced in ‘old men careening down a hill in a bath on wheels’-fest ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ but if you’ve ever wanted a quick and easy way of knowing whether or not Futurama exists in the universe of the Gilmour Girls then, well, YOU LUCKY THING!
- Whobrings: A tool designed to help you share responsibilities when organising a trip, and lets you allocate who should bring what thing when you go away. Unexciting, but possibly useful – in part this feels like the sort of thing that any brand with any sort of outdoors-y vibe might usefully rinse, but personally my main motivation for sharing this is so that you can all use it to gently-but-mercilessly bully someone in your friendship group by assigning them to carry all the heavy stuff next time you go camping.
- Consentomatic: Simple, potentially-useful extension from the nice people at the University of Aaurhus University in Denmark: “Nearly all websites use tracking technologies to collect data about you. By law, they often need your permission, which is why many websites have “consent pop-ups”. However, 90% of these pop-ups use so-called “dark patterns”, which are designed to make it very difficult to say no, but very easy to say yes. Although using dark patterns is illegal, the laws are not enforced enough, so many websites get away with it. Consent-O-Matic is a browser extension that recognizes CMP (Consent Management Provider) pop-ups that have become ubiquitous on the web and automatically fills them out based on your preferences – even if you meet a dark pattern design. Sometimes a website might not use standard categories, and in that case, Consent-O-Matic will always try to submit the most privacy preserving settings.”
- Spotipie: I mean, yes, fine, the official name for this website widget thing is ‘The Spotify Pie’, but I hope its creator Darren Huang won’t mind me taking a little bit of license here because, SPOTIPIE!! SO CLEVER! Anyway, this is a simple tool which lets you hook up your Spotify account and get a pie-chart readout of the genres Spotify thinks you enjoy most based on its own categorisations of ‘what music is’. Now I don’t use Spotify very much and so the listening data it can draw on is limited, but even so the genre stuff here is sort-of fascinating – I have no fcuking idea what ‘bubblegrunge’ is meant to be (but I now feel marginally cooler for apparently being a fan of it), and I am slightly weirded out by the fact that ‘Brighton Indie’ is apparently a category (do other UK cities have this distinction? Is ‘Milton Keynes Indie’ a thing?). Find YOUR Spotipie! See, Darren? You may have made the fun webapp (for which thanks), but my name is better.
- Archeo3dItalia: This is a UNESCO website and as such is possibly a bit drier than it need be, but on the flipside it’s a really comprehensive and historically-rich rundown of various UNESCO World Heritage archaeological sites across Italy, with 3d visualisations of What Stuff Would Have Looked Like In The Past, some rendered flythroughs and a LOT of text. If you’re a history buff, or looking to organise a trip to Italy to Do Some History, this is probably a useful resource.
- Spam: A proper internet time capsule, this – like knocking out a wall in an old building and suddenly being confronted with a toilet from a few hundred years ago covered in graffiti of the time. Except, er, this isn’t a toilet, it’s a website, and it’s only 30-odd years old. Still, otherwise that is a PERFECT analogy – click the link and be transported back to an innocent time in which making an entire website about processed meat product SPAM was a perfectly-reasonable way to spend countless hours of one’s life (you may scoff, but try explaining ‘spending hours editing together a video of you explaining how money off vouchers work in the hope that you will win the content lottery and get millions of views but in the knowledge that you probably won’t and it will instead get seen by approximately 47 people’ to someone from the past and watch their incredulous loling). One of the most interesting things about stuff like this is how it shows how internet humour has evolved – it’s impossible to imagine something similar being made now, there are no layers to it, no need to have imbibed the past 5 years’ worth of online cultural firehose to make sense of the metatextual layers and recursive gags. It feels…flat, not in a sad way so much as in a 2d vs 3d way. Or at least it does to me.
By K Young
THE SECTION WHICH WOULD LIKE TO POINT OUT TO ANYONE THAT MIGHT HAVE MISSED IT THAT THE VERY CONCEPT OF ‘BRANDED CONTENT’ HAS BEEN TOTALLY DESTROYED FOREVER AND IT’S PROBABLY TIME TO STOP THE WHOLE THING BECAUSE, REALLY, THIS IS, ER, UNTOPPABLE, PT.2:
- Blag: Did YOU take up sign-painting or lettering as a new and improving hobby during one of the lockdowns? I appreciate that this is likely to be true for, at best, a vanishingly-small portion of my already-miniscule readership, but JUST IN CASE this is the perfect resource: “BLAG is an online and print publication to inspire and inform the international sign painting community, by celebrating exciting work and sharing knowledge and resources.” Even if you’re not personally a sign-painting aficionado (and let me point out that this would be the PERFECT opportunity to become one – where’s your ambition, ffs?) this is a wonderful repository of excellent work and design inspiration and is therefore worth a look (also, aside from anything else, this is such an elegant url, well done Sam Roberts whose website this is).
- Paper Shipwright: One of the interesting things about my slow decline into middle-aged senescence is observing that of my friends and peers, and seeing the extent to which long-standing cliches about men and their hobbies are INCREDIBLY TRUE. I don’t know exactly why, but all of a sudden a worrying proportion of people I know are posting photos of themselves undertaking MASSIVE AND EXPENSIVE adult LEGO builds, or getting really into painting miniatures, and…and…why is this? What is it about middle-age that sees so many men get really into slow, methodical building and making of stuff? Is it a desperate attempt to once again be able to exert a degree of control and mastery over a world in which we no longer have any real relevance or purpose and which, if we’re entirely honest, we increasingly find frightening and confusing? Is it a growing sense of comfort and acceptance of ourselves that sees us no longer care about what is ‘cool’ and instead embrace the geeky pleasure of spending hours hunched over a crafting table with the tip of one’s tongue sticking out of the corner of one’s mouth? I have no fcuking idea, to be honest, given as I have absolutely no interest whatsoever in spending my afternoons elbow-deep in craft supplies (I’ll stick to the crying, thanks!), but if YOU are one of those middle-aged men who’s decided to go FULL CRAFT in your dotage then you may enjoy this website which offers a dizzying selection of papercraft models of boats and lighthouses and warships of varying degrees of complexity which you can print out for (mostly) free and use as a means of attempting bond with your offspring / ignore them entirely (delete as applicable).
- Words Without Borders: I’m slightly-embarrassed that this website is new to me, as it is very much up my street – “Words Without Borders is the premier destination for a global literary conversation. Founded in 2003, our mission is to cultivate global awareness by expanding access to international writing and creating a bridge between readers, writers, and translators. Our digital magazine offers unparalleled access to the world’s literary voices. These include writers like Elena Ferrante, Olga Tokarczuk, and Han Kang, all published on WWB before they became international sensations, as well as hundreds of new and rising talents. We are committed to centering writers in indigenous, endangered, and other world languages that are too often marginalized.” Containing fiction, nonfiction, poetry, graphic work and drama, this is a dizzying collection of brilliant writings from around the world, and a superb resource if you either want a bunch of free reading materials to delight and distract or a resource to broaden your reading horizons beyond authors writing in English. A wonderful site and project, this.
- Intro To Deep Learning: I think it’s reasonable to say that Deep Learning as a concept is widely-applied enough to mean that it’s worth knowing at least a little bit about how it works (I say this as someone whose technical and scientific understanding of the technology can best be described as ‘enthusiastically amateurish and ignorant’) – if you’re interested in really getting under the skin of what we mean when we talk about machine learning, and how that can be applied, then this free MIT course could be worth a look. “MIT’s introductory course on deep learning methods with applications to computer vision, natural language processing, biology, and more! Students will gain foundational knowledge of deep learning algorithms and get practical experience in building neural networks in TensorFlow.” This is a proper course – you’ll need calculus and linear algebra to get much past the basics – but if you have the mathematical chops to follow along (I very much don’t, to be clear) then this could be really useful. As a supplementary / simpler resource, you might also ‘enjoy’ (look, this stuff is hard and I don’t really believe anyone actually enjoys hard stuff) this selection of visualised explainers of key ML concepts like decision trees, which is slightly-simpler (but still, to be clear, too hard for me).
- Bot_PNG: This is properly useful – @ this Twitter bot with any image you like and it will reply to you with that image with the background removed, making it perfect for anyone who doesn’t have photoshop or who can’t remember the url for one of the near-infinite number of websites which do exactly this thing.
- Multicrush: This is, to be clear, a terrible idea, but it feels like there might be something halfway-fun you can do with the concept. Multicrush is “a proof-of-concept of a decentralised, multi-key-encryption, zero knowledge cryptographic protocol” which also happens to be a way of finding out which of a bunch of people you share the url with fancies you back (as I said, a terrible idea). Plug in a bunch of people’s names who you fancy into the site, and it generates a link which you can share with whoever you want – other users are invited to submit their names, and the site will tell them if they appeared on your (intensely creepy) list. Which in and of itself isn’t interesting or useful, but the cryptography here is interesting and I quite like the idea of using this in some sort of lightly-ludic way – there’s a bunch of creative ways this could be used to designate someone as ‘it’ for fun (or indeed intensely-cruel) purposes, like a weekly team-based game of ‘Werewolf’ or similar (look, you’re all more fun and creative than me, come up with your own ideas).
- Earn Your Spurs: For Various Reasons I am likely to have one of those ‘LIFE REEVALUATION’ moments coming up later this year in which you pause and take stock and think ‘Jesus, I’ve really screwed everything up, how did I end up here and how do I get out?’ – in preparation for that, I was thinking that I should perhaps start stockpiling websites to help me work out what my midlife crisis pivot should be. In that spirit I present to you the ranchers’ lifestyle website Earn Your Spurs, which offers you a one-stop guide to BECOMING A REAL COWPERSON. Now I’m not an expert on lassooing and steers and how to get on and off a horse without having your skull cracked by an errant hoof, and so cannot speak to the authenticity or otherwise of the advice on offer here – and you might perhaps be given pause for thought by the fact that the site’s first section is ‘style’ rather than ‘how to wash ingrained dung off your denims’ – but I lost a good 15 minutes to reading about the debate around wearing spur straps inside or outside of one’s boots, so if you fancy spending a productive few moments imagining yourself riding free on the prairie then this might please you.
- The Queer Games Bundle: Itch is doing one of it’s regular ‘buy an insane number of games for basically no money at all’ offers this month to celebrate Pride – here you can get nearly 600 games made by queer creators for the frankly ludicrous price of $60 or your local currency equivalent. Obviously I’ve only checked out a fraction of the titles on offer here, but there’s a staggering range of styles and themes on offer, from explorations of the trans experience through interactive novels to a game in which you play blackjack against a ‘freaky, beefy orc’, and if that doesn’t cover the entire gamut of ludic experience then frankly I don’t know what does.
- Mechanism Videos: One for the ‘there is nothing new under the sun’ file, this is basically ‘Will It Blend?’, but redone for TkkTok! Watch as a disembodied hand puts stuff in a blender and turns it on to see what happens! This is a relatively-new account and to be honest the blending on display is…less-than-compelling, but it’s interesting to see that we’re now at a point when you can legitimately rip off internet viral sensations from a decade ago safe in the knowledge that TikTok will never have heard of them and you can pass it off as ‘new’ to a whole new coterie of internetkids (I have spent the past year unsuccessfully-attempting to resurrect ‘Push Button To Add Drama’ on exactly this basis). I saw someone this week commenting on ‘this weird gross new slime trend that’s all over TikTok all of a sudden’, which makes me think that the idea of collective online memory is basically a lie and that we are all fundamentally goldfish when it comes to internet trends – or perhaps more accurately that there is so much of this stuff and it’s all so inconsequential and it moves so fast that it perhaps simply doesn’t leave any meaningful impression at all, regardless of the hundreds of thousands of words spewed out by content monkeys to document its vital importance as it happens.
- Dillfrog Muse: Regardless of what this website actually does, I refuse to believe I will find a better-named one this year. Happily it’s also got a reasonably-fun purpose – Dillfrog Muse is a set of free online tools to help with your English [song]writing. Its defining features include Rhyming Dictionary (Find rhyming words with varying degrees of stability, including slant/off rhyme: perfect/identical, family, additive, consonance, assonance. Refine and group your results by factors such as part of speech (verb, noun, adjective, or adverb), familiarity, and syllable count); Meaning Dictionary/Thesaurus (Navigate words’ meanings and relationships via hyperlinked WordNet data); and Lists (Use our random word lists to fill in your blank. Resolve a writer’s block, or simply steer your work in a new direction).” Useful for copywriters and those of you still writing terrible raps in your ‘Notes’ app while you’re on the bus.
- The Food of the Calgary Stampede: Summertime is approaching which, if you’re a North American means COUNTY FAIR SEASON, which, in turn, means, INSANE COUNTY FAIR FOOD SEASON! The first menu out of the traps this year is that of the Calgary Stampede and OH MY DAYS the stuff that you can clog your arteries with this year. Fancy a “bad breath lemonade – Refreshing ice-cold lemonade with a smooth, delicious garlic & caramelized onion finish”? No, of course you don’t, that sounds repellent beyond all imagining. How about trying an order of “COTTON CANDY NOODLES – A brand new sauce invented to compliment a fluffy cloud of pink cotton candy, garnished on top of noodles filled with chicken & vegetables or vegetarian.” DEAR GOD WHAT IS THIS? I know that this stuff is largely-designed as ‘wtf?’ real-life clickbait but seriously, who in the name of Christ actually wants to eat “GLAZED DONUT GRILLED CHEESE – A signature four cheese blend sandwiched between a glazed donut, with the choice of your favorite protein, to drive your taste buds crazy!” Nothing says ‘this is going to taste great’ quite like the promise of ‘your favourite protein’ (also, that is a BOLD promise – do you have musk rat? DO YOU? Favourite protein? pah!)! No wonder half of the continent hasn’t seen its toes for a decade.
- Pixel Quiz: Guess the film from the pixellated, AI-generated image – this is by turns pleasingly-simple and (if you’re me, at least, and your knowledge of cinema is…patchy at best) hair-pullingly infuriating. Once you’ve got all 30 you can try the sister version which does the same for videogames – this is a nice little 10-minute timesink while you wait for the pubs to open.
- Squaredle: I keep promising myself that I won’t include any more word-based puzzle games for a while because, really, HOW MANY MORE CAN THERE BE?, but then I find stuff like this and get momentarily obsessed and feel the overwhelming compulsion to share it with you. Squaredle is not like Wordle at all, other than it too has daily puzzles which involve you knowing words – otherwise, though, the gameplay is totally different, consisting in daily wordsearches where you have to find all of the words hidden in the grid. This is shamefully-difficult (for me at least), and I am 100% going to keep playing it til I get 100% on one and then I am going to add the url to a blocklist so I can never fail again.
- Cell Tower: This, though, this makes me feel SO STUPID that I am almost embarrassed to share it with you as you will all be so much better at it than I am. Each day you are presented with a grid of letters, which can be divided into individual words: “Divide the grid into regions so that each region contains a four-to-eight-letter English word when read left-to-right top-to-bottom. There is only one way to cover the entire grid in words.” There is ONLY ONE CORRECT SOLUTION each day, and I’m fcuked if I can EVER find it; I don’t know whether this is one of those ‘this is just how your brain works’ things or whether it’s instead indicative or some sort of creeping neurodegenerative disorder, but I am literally incapable of doing these – please confirm that they are in fact bstard hard and I am not just starting the long, miserable slide into irreversible intellectual decline.
- Paint Everything Everywhere: Finally this week, an excellent, simple little puzzler where your goal is to cover every square in each level’s play area with paint. If you’ve ever played one of those ‘move the blocks around the obstacles to their target squares’ games then you’ll get this pretty quickly – it’s VERY satisfying and then very hard.
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!
- Vintage Home Plans: 20th Century houses (or specifically their floor plans) from around the world – interesting from an architectural point of view, and exactly the sort of thing that will cause you to wail and gnash your teeth as you look at it from the confines of your 45 square metre cell in Zone4 for which you’re shelling out 60% of your monthly income!
- Content Aware Typography: Or ‘AI-fcuked typography’, this Tumblr collects images of type that has been messed with using Photoshop’s ‘Content Aware Fill’ function – look, whilst I appreciate that might not make a lot of sense to those of you who aren’t regular photoshop monkeys can I just urge you to click the link and enjoy the weirdly-melty lettering and half-readable outputs? Good.
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!
- Gatti Di Torre Argentina: When I go into town from my house, the tram drops me off at Largo Argentina, which is a square in central Rome famous for two things: 1) it is the apparent location of Julius Caesar’s stabbing at the hands of Brutus et al; 2) it is where the cats live. Basically in the 70s and especially 80s, Rome had a real problem with feral urban cats which were running rampant throughout the city, fed by well-meaning old women dressed in black who poured out all the love they could no longer bestow upon their dead husbands to the local feline population and oversaw a population explosion that basically meant the entire city stank of catp1ss. As a means of addressing this, the council opened a cat sanctuary in Largo Argentina, which means the ruins of Caesar’s bloody demise are now tastefully accessorised by a selection of maowities sunning themselves on the millennia-old brickwork. This is the insta feed of said cat sanctuary, should you feel that your Insta doesn’t feature enough ‘cat on old column’ content. Thanks to Chris Lee for the excellent link.
- House of Relax: I know that we’re a long way from the golden era of internet comics, but occasionally I stumble across a decent-looking new one – House of Relax is a simple mostly single-panel strip, and you can gauge whether or not you will find it amusing based on whether or not the idea of a poorly-drawn image of a helicopter captioned ‘It hovered there, taking helicopter sh1t after helicopter sh1t’ makes you laugh (it made me laugh, please don’t judge).
- Captured by the Fuzz: Fuzzy felt creations – but really, really good ones. The account does requests, which is why, for example, you can find a fuzzy felt depiction of the ‘History Today’ professors from The Mary Whitehouse Experience on the feed. Glorious.
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!
- Internet Doom-Loop: I appreciate that this isn’t the most-cheery-sounding headline I could have kicked off with, but I promise it’s not actually the apocalyptic read that you might imagine – instead, this is a piece by Charlie Warzel which touches on something I have been feeling and failing to adequately-articulate for a while now, specifically the weird nature of time online and the fact that it seems to be…slipping. Like, I know that this is in part a post-TikTok thing, but it’s striking how much the pasty 12 months or so has seen online content start to become unmoored from time – upload dates disappearing from YouTube vids, datestamps vanishing from online articles…I wonder about the extent to which it’s linked to the phenomenon identified by LM Sacasas which forms the central thesis of Warzel’s piece, namely that “The internet, as a mediator of human interactions, is not a place, it is a time. It is the past. I mean this in a literal sense. The layers of artifice that mediate our online interactions mean that everything that comes to us online comes to us from the past—sometimes the very recent past, but the past nonetheless.” Anyway, this is great and an interesting overview of How It Feels To Be Online, and context collapse, and Posting Through It.
- Bannon: I know that you all probably feel you spent around four years thinking far too much about Steve Bannon and are quite happy to have expunged him from your brain, but if you have the appetite for it then this Atlantic profile of the man in his latest post-Trumpian reinvention is worth a read, partly because Bannon gives great profile – honestly, this is in many respects just a great portrait of a complicated individual, even without the side order of ‘a complicated individual who seems to have an unhealthy obsession with fcuking with Western democracy as though it were his persona antfarm and he a vengeful god who the ants have really, really annoyed – but also because there are some really interesting nuggets about how he views modern politics and movements and cults and human psychology. I mean, the man is terrifying but this is an interesting (and powerful imho) observation about how modern online cults (and politics and campaigning and mobilising your forces) work: “he breaks it down for Morris, using the example of a theoretical man named Dave in Accounts Payable who one day drops dead. “Some preacher from a church or some guy from a funeral home who’s never met him does a 10-minute eulogy, says a few prayers,” Bannon says. “And that’s Dave.” But that’s offline Dave. Online Dave is a whole other story. “Dave in the game is Ajax,” Bannon continues. “And Ajax is, like, the man.” Ajax gets a caisson when he dies and is carried off to a raging funeral pyre. The rival group comes out and attacks. “There’s literally thousands of people there,” Bannon says. “People are home playing the game, and guys are not going to work. And women are not going to work. Because it’s Ajax.” “Now, who’s more real?” Bannon asks. Dave in Accounting? Or Ajax?”
- The Know Your Meme Guy: An interview with Don Caldwell, who runs ‘Know Your Meme’ – a website which a decade or so ago was basically just ‘the place you went to find new Rage Comics’ and which now has a legitimate claim to be a genuinely important record of online culture and how it evolves and how we track and record the semiotics of our platform-mediated lives and communications.
- Play With GPT-3: Not actually a longread, this, but instead a helpful guide to getting set up with GPT-3 so that you too can play around with a precursor to the technology which will one day render you totally professionally useless. I jest, of course – what this actually does is give you a very quick and easy way to reassure yourself as to the limits of the tech, whilst at the same time giving you access to a really, really useful set of creative tools – honestly, I was playing around this earlier in the week for work and it’s amazing quite how much useful stuff you can get from prompts like ‘creative ideas to promote a new brand of sneakers to Gen Z’. Boot this up and FIRE THE CREATIVES (don’t fire the creatives, please)! BONUS GPT-3 CONTENT: Robin Sloane with some short-but-pithily-observed notes on the limitations on AI text generation, such as “The thing to know about the AI language models, OpenAI’s GPT-3 and its cousins, is that they are fundamentally bullshitters. The bullshit has gotten better and better, but at the core … well, there’s nothing at the core. They are shells of nervous compulsion that “want” only to keep talking, fill the silence, cover the void with a curtain of words.”
- A Guide To Asking Robots To Design Stained Glass Windows: Sticking with the AI creation theme, this is a great read about how the author used DALL-E to generate a bunch of stained glass window art – the resulting imagery is impressive, but what I really enjoyed about this was the focus on inputs and how they affect the output (speaking again to my increasingly monomaniacal obsession with ‘being able to speak to the machines is going to be a properly useful skill, at least for a short while, in the not-too-distant future’), and how limited language interfaces are leading to limited artistic output. This stuff is SO interesting to me (and hopefully to at least a few of you too).
- How I Monetised My Baby Yoda: It sounds like a euphemism, but really it’s not! There are large parts of this WIRED article that made my teeth itch, not least the subhead which refers to ‘going mega-vi’ which is possibly the worst thing to have happened to language since ‘totes emosh’, but I found it interesting as an indicator of how basically everyone is an advermarketingprperson in 2022. The piece is a pretty lightweight look at how the author attained viral success via videos of her Baby Yoda doll, but underneath that it’s basically a ‘this is how you do content 101’ explainer and, honestly, it’s smarter than most of the people I’ve worked with and who are meant to know how to do this professionally. Honestly, is everyone basically a fcuking marketer now? They are, aren’t they? Jesus.
- Welcome To Migrant TikTok: Truly, there is a TikTok for everything, even for the stories of people coming to Europe on risky Mediterranean boat crossings. This Rest Of World piece looks at the peculiar genre that is migrant stories on the platform, and the rights and wrongs of allowing what is effectively advertising for illegal crossings on social platforms – on the one hand, it’s clear that showing imagery of successful crossings undertaken thanks in the main to smugglers and people traffickers doesn’t exactly do much to dissuade people from paying criminals to ferry them; on the other, these accounts can contain useful tips for people seeking to escape persecution and who need a way out of difficult situations. Presented without judgement, this is a really interesting article about ‘content’ that is very much not just ‘content’.
- Galaxy TV and BSB: You may not think that you want to read an exhaustive history of the genesis of satellite TV in the UK, but I promise you that this is a lot more interesting than you’d think, not least because the author, Chris Smith, goes into pleasing levels of detail about the frankly batsh1t programming available on Galaxy TV, the first flagship channel of the ill-fated BSKYB network in the early-90s in the UK. Honestly, if you’ve never heard of ‘Heil Honey I’m Home’ then it’s worth reading for the description of that alone: “I know what you’re thinking. Heil Honey, I’m Home is a stupid name for a TV show, because it sounds like a sitcom where the main character is Adolf Hitler or something. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what it is. Heil Honey, I’m Home is essentially a fever dream you would expect one of the characters in It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia to have after drinking a can of paint, and features Adolf Hitler and his wife Eva Braun living next door to a Jewish couple called Arny and Rosa. The entire thing is ostensibly a spoof of genteel 1950s American sitcoms, but on very fascist steroids. I must immediately point out that I find the premise of the show deeply offensive for many reasons, the biggest perhaps being that it unashamedly trivialises the suffering and deaths of millions of people and was filmed less than a year after the Berlin Wall came down. It is not set in some parallel universe where Hitler never became Chancellor either; it’s set in Nazi Germany in 1938 and in the first episode, Neville Chamberlain comes to visit. I am not making this up.”
- On Stretch Wrap: Look, I know that your immediate reaction to being presented with a several-thousand-word long article about stretch wrap (saran wrap for the Americans) and its vital role in the modern world is likely to induce some pretty frantic exit-searching in the majority of you but please, work with me here – in the spirit of Boring Festival (nothing is boring when you look at it up close), I promise you that this is far, far more interesting than you think it will be. No, really, come back! It touches on mass consumption and logistics and the environment and society and it’s fascinating in exactly the way that only these very deep dives into tiny, ubiquitous elements of global processes can be.
- The Incredible Boxes of Hock Wah Yeoh: I think I have mentioned here before that when I was a youngish teenager in the 90s I used to spend an inordinate amount of time after school wandering around games shops and staring at the boxes of all the videogames that I couldn’t afford to buy and thus would never play – as such, the subject matter of this piece is very close to a particularly teenage bit of my heart. Hock Wah Yeong was a packaging designer who, for a relatively-brief period when all the normal rules of packaging design were seemingly consigned to the bin, created some of the most amazing boxes for videogames you will ever see. I know, I know, you’re thinking ‘how interesting can a box housing some floppy discs and maybe a CD be?’ – click the link and be DISGUSTED at your lack of imagination. There is genius at play here, but, equally, I pity the poor fcukers who had to break the news of each design to the retailers and the poor, poor hauliers who had to deliver these things to shops.
- That Time They Tried To Rename Jazz: I have linked to Ted Gioia’s newsletter a few times now, and I do so again unapologetically as this is a great story. Did you know that ‘in 1949, Down Beat magazine launched a contest to find a better name for jazz. And to certify the seriousness of the plan, the periodical offered a thousand dollar prize’? I am guessing you did not. This is a great read, not least for the suggestions that were mooted as alternative monikers – do you think that jazz, objectively the world’s coolest musical genre (ok, fine, this only works for quite a specific definition of ‘cool’, but work with me here) would still be a byword for elegance and late-night sophistication had it instead been known as ‘Schmoosic’? I contend that it would not.
- Clive on the Metaverse: Perennial Web Curios favourite Clive Martin writes on THE METAVERSE – you won’t learn anything new about the tech, but Martin turns a wonderful sentence as ever, and I rather enjoyed his observations about how far we already find ourselves down the road to a forever-blurring of the phygital (sorry!) boundaries: “Ask yourself, how much of “you” is really your physical self anymore? Does that perilous stack of flesh, bone, blood and water really embody “I”, or is it just a fraction of some greater entity? The figure that appears on Insta Stories, or in important Zoom meetings, is certainly a reflection of you, yet it is constructed to a point of abstraction, redrawn with filters, lighting and a studied persona. Really, it’s more of a self-portrait than anything, a funky doodle of yourself in the back of your diary. If you work from home, shop online and carry out the bulk of your relationships in the digital sphere, your actual body might only be there as a kind of internal processor. An engine to run a largely digital concept, occasionally appearing in late night milk runs and family birthday parties. As Puri suggests, we are on the precipice of a moment where our online lives outrun our physical ones. So why wouldn’t you spend your money on a digital handbag as opposed to a patent leather one?”
- The Usborne Book of the 2020s: Dan Hon is writing some of my favourite stuff at the moment – see also this recent newsletter which touches on the metaverse and interoperability and A Better Alternative To The Blockchain, and ‘comedy’ writing on Mass Platform Extinction Events – and this, a collection of Tweets imagining an Usborn kids book recounting the 2020s, is so so so good. Actual, proper near-future satire, this! Like we used to get back in the days before we all assumed that modernity was so gape-inducingly mad that satire was now impossible.
- Love Island: I am old enough to remember the original incarnation of Love Island, in which a bunch of famous including ex-footballer Lee Sharp, Radio 1 DJ Jayne Middlemiss, and wild-eyed instance-of-sexual-assault-in-waiting Paul Danan (a man so problematic in his behaviour that literally everyone at the time referred to him as ‘rapey’ Paul Danan, which gives you a hint of the Different Times in which that version of the show existed) – what appears onscreen now is a very different beast. Presuming that all of you with access to UK TV are once again preparing yourselves to live vicariously through a gang of pituitary meatheads in small trunks as they and a selection of future OnlyFans models attempt to FIND LOVE via the medium of only-occasionally-polysyllabic chats and a LOT of sunbathing, then you will enjoy this only-slightly-po-faced look at the series’ history presented by Vanity Fair. It’s understandably framed by the deaths of contestants past and presenter Caroline Flack, and the life-changing (for both good and ill) impact it has on contestants’ lives, but it’s less-stentorian than you might expect and if, like me, you’re only vaguely aware of how the show works it’s an interesting look at a proper pop culture phenomenon of the sort I didn’t think ‘reality’ TV could create anymore.
- Confessions of a Perpetually Single Woman: I really enjoyed this – Morgan Parker writes for Elle about the fact that she can’t find a boyfriend, and has never been able to, and why that might be, and what she might want to do about it. “The Why are you single? conundrum has sidled up easily to the shame I’ve felt about the ugly sides of my depression, which piggybacked nicely on the isolation of growing up a weird Black girl in a traditional white suburb. It’s not like I needed any extra encouragement to discipline and punish my every flaw, everything that makes me different, anything that someone else might not like about me. How would I act or even feel if there were no movies, self-help studies, or think pieces teaching me how, teaching all of us the same how, telling us what to desire?”
- Breaking Up With Jane: On marijuana…addiction? I know it’s not technically an addictive substance, but I also know that I have smoked weed pretty much daily for 25 years and I would find it…challenging to stop. Anyway, I loved this essay by Mariam Sule, about dependencies and why we have them and coming to terms with what you are and what you need, not least because it spoke to me about my relationship with the drug in a way I’ve rarely encountered elsewhere.
- Djibouti: A short piece of fiction by Shehan Karunatilaka, about the head of the Sri Lankan state being driven to a secret assignation in the back of a cab in London. This is SO well-crafted, and I’ve personally got a lot of time for the very specific genre of ‘powerful person takes time to momentarily slough off the shackles of office’ fiction of which this very much forms a part.
- Theory of Knowledge: A second short story, this time an account of a student-teacher relationship. I loved this – the use of the academic essay/exam as a framing device, the fact that it doesn’t end up quite where I expected it to…I started reading it thinking it was basically ‘My Dark Vanessa’ in short story form, but it’s much better than that.
- A Piece of Pie: Finally this week, a short story from 1937 by Damon Runyan which I came across on Twitter (thanks to Dan Griliopoulos) and which I realised after reading a line or two I remembered from my childhood and IT IS SO GOOD AND SO PURE! Honestly, this is absolutely perfect – it’s funny, it’s about food, it’s got a light ‘knockabout caper’ feel to it, and it is so, so NOO YOIK it almost hurts. I can’t stress enough what an absolute joy this story is, and how much joy it will bring you (and if it doesn’t I promise to refund you every single penny you have paid me for all these words) – if you only click one link this week, make it this one (but know that you are missing out on a lot of other good stuff, what’s wrong with you?).
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:
- I don’t feel this has gotten enough views, given how utterly-appalling-sounding the premise is. You wouldn’t think that Lizzo x Linkin Park would be anything other than an unmitigated sonic disaster, and yet here is DJ Cummerbund making them sound like the most natural combination in the world. This is GREAT.
- Last up in the videos this week, I adore this new one by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Perfume Genius, and I hope you do too. It’s called ‘Spitting Off The Edge Of The World’, and OH HANG ON THAT’S IT WE’VE REACHED THE END ONCE AGAIN AND THE INTERNET IS OVER, DONE, FINISHED, AT LEAST UNTIL NEXT WEEK SO LET ME WISH YOU GOODBYE AND GOOD LUCK AND GOOD FUN AND LET ME TELL YOU HOW I LOVE YOU (SO MUCH) AND LET ME ASK YOU TO COME BACK NEXT WEEK FOR WITHOUT YOU I AM NOTHING NOTHING NOTHING LESS THAN NOTHING I LOVE YOU BYE!